Fanatics defend cockfighting

Chris Stewart feeds his hens and roosters in Livingston, La., April 4. Cockfighting, a pastime of the Bayou State, may finally come to an end due to political pressure from animal rights groups, but the practice has an ardent following that believe hurric Alex Brandon, AP

AP

Chris Stewart feeds his hens and roosters in Livingston, La., April 4. Cockfighting, a pastime of the Bayou State, may finally come to an end due to political pressure from animal rights groups, but the practice has an ardent following that believe hurric Alex Brandon, AP

By The Associated Press

BREAUX BRIDGE, La. – Spectators shake their fists, scream out wagers and cheer on their roosters, the air swirling with cigarette smoke and chicken feathers.

Saturday night in Breaux Bridge means rooster fights at the Atchafalaya Game Club, one of dozens of cockfighting venues in Louisiana – soon to be the last state where the practice is legal. Fans from around the country pay $10 and settle into padded seats overlooking the pit, where two roosters peck and claw each other, often to the death.

“I still go to the rooster fights on a regular basis because it’s something I enjoy,” said Billy Duplechein, 37, of St. Martinville. “And I’m trying to get my sons involved. It keeps our kids out of trouble.”

But this Louisiana tradition – long decried by animal rights activists as cruel and barbaric – may be coming to an end.

At a time when hurricane-stricken New Orleans desperately needs money from Capitol Hill, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and other politicians want cockfighting banned.

That is an unpopular idea at the Atchafalaya Club, where enthusiasts consider it harmless fun. They say Louisiana has plenty of other problems to solve, including the stagnant hurricane recovery.

“I just don’t see how it’s going to help the state to get rid of cockfighting,” said Dale Barras, owner of the Atchafalaya Club.

The Atchafalaya Game Club – home to the Christmas Derby, the Mardi Gras Cup and other cockfighting tournaments – is an unmarked warehouse in Breaux Bridge, a small Cajun town about 120 miles west of New Orleans.

Hundreds came to the fights on a recent Saturday night, and they were not unlike the typical high school football crowd: teenagers on dates, kids with their parents. They ate burgers and chili dogs and drank sodas and beer.

“We don’t make no one come to the fights,” Barras said. “And we don’t make the chickens fight,” he added, echoing the cockfighters’ oft-repeated argument that roosters battle instinctively.

The birds are fitted with sharp metal blades or curved spikes on their legs, and tear into each other. Blood soaks the animals’ feathers and their handlers’ clothing. A match can end in minutes or an hour, when one bird is dead or refuses to fight.